Thursday, September 20, 2012

The tartaric acid files

For any who have been following the thoughts of using tartaric acid to set cream based desserts, I am here to tell you that the results are quite mixed. Interesting, but it is a whole lot harder than I expected.
Tartaric acid is very bitter, so the quantity is crucual. I am zeroing in on it, but am not there yet. All of these experiments have been using 1 US pint of heavy cream (2 cups, 16 fl oz).
The basic ratio has been to use 4 oz sugar per recipe also. However, the chocolate experiment didn't have added sugar because the chocolate should have been sweet enough - it wasn't!

Experiment 1 - Pink peppercorns

This was in many ways the easiest recipe, but ot really brought home the bitterness of the tartaric acid. Here I used a (US) pint of cream, 4 oz sugar, 1/2t tartaric acid dissolved in a little sugar syrup (ginger flavored). This set up beautifully, but was dedinitely bitter.

Experiment 2 - Chocolate

This one was Ok, but I messed up by using too much espresso powder in an attempt to boost the chocolate. For 1 (US) pint of cream I used 4 oz sugar,  1 whole disc of Ibarra chocolate, 1/4 t tartaric acid and 1t espresso powder dissolved in hot water. Set up fine. But again was a bit bitter. The coffee was overwhelming. The texture was nice though.

Experiment 3 - Orange

This one did not set up properly. Shame because the flavor was superb. Here the 1 (US) pint of cream, 4 oz sugar, finely grated zest of 3 oranges in the base and then juice of 1 orange 2T Grand Marnier and 1/8t tartaric acid. Clearly not enough tartaric acid to get the set that I wanted.

Experiment 4 - Kaffir lime/ginger

Again, terrific flavor, Perhaps my favorite. 6 fresh jaffir lime leaves (from tree in garden), a 2 inch chunk of ginger minced finely + 1 (US) pint cream and 4 oz sugar. 1/4t tartaric acid in ginger syrup. Surprisingly didn't set up quite enough, But probably my favorite in terms of flavor.

My local Tom Thumb now has an official cream shortage!

A kind of panzanella

It was a warm evening in September, here in TX. While the tomatoes are over, I was able to find some nice cherry toms and yellow small tomatoes at the store. Madame likes to use our home grown basil and bread in salads, so here is a variant on panzanella. It uses the bread in 2 ways - one mixed in to soak up all the juices and the other as a large crostini for display and crunch. The beer served with this is the excellent DuPont Saison.

There's a handy tip for slicing tomatoes and olives here


10oz mixed small (cherry sized) tomatoes, sliced in half
6 oz pitted mixed greek olives
2T rinsed and drained capers
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
Juice of 1 orange
1 cup whole basil leaves (divided use)
4 large slices of bread, grilled (or toasted)
High quality olive oil (drizzling)
Large crystals of sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
a couple of ounces of Pecorino Romano, shaved from a larger piece using a vegetable peeler.


Halve the tomatoes and olives. Place in a gallon zip lock bag. Add the capers, garlic and all but 12 leaves of the basil chiffonaded. Add the orange juice Refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend.
When ready to serve, grill the bread slices (or toast then if you prefer). Cut 2 of the slices into croutons, halve each of the other 2. Mix the croutons into the olive/tomato mixture and allow to stand for a few minutes - to soak up the juice.
Place the halved toast on the plate, and pile the olive/tomato mixture over most of the toast, leaving some of the toast uncovered so that it remailns crunchy and acts as a handle.
Drizzle the olive oil over the salad, decorate with the remaining basil leaves and a few grinds of pepper. Sprinkle large sea salt crystals for crunch. Arrange the sliced Pecorino Romano on top and serve.


There were only 2 of us eating this as a main course. There was about 1/3rd of the olive/tomato mixture left over for a lunch time salad today.



Halving Olives and baby tomatoes

Halving cherry tomatoes, olives, grapes etc. is such a pain. Mindless, precision. So I have come up with a better way. I don't remember where I saw this technique - on one of the cooking shows, I think. Since then I have seen Chris Consentino (twitter @offalchris) talking about it.


2 plates
1 sharp knife


Place one plate on your cutting surface - face down. Note the ridge. The plate in the picture is on a damp piece of paper towel to prevent it slipping.

Place some pitted olives (cherry or grape tomatoes, grapes, pitted cherries, etc.) into the dish on the bottom of the plate.

Place the other plate face up on top. The olives are now trapped between the layers.

Using a very sharp long knife (long enough so that the length of the blade is greater than the diameter of the plates) slice between the plates, using one of the rims as a guide.

When you have cut all the way through, your olives are neatly halved
And ready for use in a dish.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lemon pots au creme

My lovely sister introduced me to these last Christmas. Possibly the best taste to effort ratio of any dessert I have ever made.

This has inspired me to try a whole lot of different treatments - using a different acid could be inspirational. So I ordered some tartaric acid (used to make mascarpone).

zest and juice of 3 lemons
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 oz granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2T brandy (optional)
suitable small fruit for color in the serving dish. We used blueberries

zest the lemons into the sugar. Add the lemon zest/sugar mixture to the heavy cream and start to warm through. Put in the salt at this stage. As the cream starts to simmer, stir well. Then take it off heat and allow to cool to lukewarm. Mix the brandy with the lemon juice and stir into the cream immediately. When thoroughly incorporated, place into serving dishes/ glasses along with the fruit (if using). Chill for at least 2 hrs and serve cold.

Update - 9/11/2016

I streamlined the process a bit for the dinner yesterday evening. And used Meyer lemons instead of ordinary lemons. As insurance I added a pinch of tartaric acid too - I wasn't sure how well they would set using Meyer lemon juice.

Technique update (slight, but made a huge difference).

I hate it when you don't get all of the liquid out of a measuring jug. So on this occasion, I mixed the lemon zest and sugar in the jug in which I had measured the cream. That ensured we had cleaned the cream jug properly. I then squeezed the lemon juice into a small bowl - through a strainer.  Meyer lemons have a lot of pips. When the cream/sugar mixture had cooled, I strained it back into the measuring jug, Stirred in the lemon juice (and Calvados instead of brandy) into the measuring jug, mixed it and used the jug to pour the mixture into the chilled serving cups. Much less fuss than usual!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Barbecued Pork ...

My objective here was not to attempt to make pulled pork, I wanted something that was sliceable, tender, delicious, cheap and not require any sauce whatsoever. I am not a fan of BBQ sauces.

I had bought some pork shoulder at $1.99/lb from my local supermarket. It was from the blade end - still had the blade bone in it. I decided to practice the boning skills that I had learned at the hands of Chefs Christof Syre and Frederic Angevin at the 4 Seasons here in the Dallas area.

The Rub 

2T Very coarse sea salt
1T whole white peppercorns
2t whole coriander seeds
1 star anise - broken
2t whole all spice berries 
1t whole cloves
2t whole cumin
2t cardomom - whole, but just keep the seeds
2t smoked paprika finely ground
1t cayenne pepper finely ground
1t onion powder
2t garlic powder
2t dry ginger
1t dry mustard powder (Colemans)
4T kosher salt
2t white sugar

The Rest

2 pork shoulders - each weighing around 9 pounds
Soaking water
Jack Daniels oak barrel wood chips (about 1 lb)
Lump charcoal (unmeasured.)


You will want to start this about 24 hours before you plan to eat!
In this case I boned and rolled one of the shoulders and left the other intact. This was an experiment to see if there was any benefit. The boned/rolled version was slightly spicier in flavor, but the whole one looked better. In future I will leave them whole. There was another slight concern - I wasn't sure they would fit in the egg if I left them both whole. I think they would have, but it would have been tight.
The reason there are 2 kinds of salt in the rub are because the very coarse sea salt helps the spice grinder to grind up the hard spices like the cloves, star anise, coriander, etc.
Place the sea salt and the whole spices in the spice grinder (an old coffee grinder in my case) and grind finely. Mix together this ground mixture with the spices that are already ground and the kosher salt.
For the shoulder that is boned, I butterflied it. Pat the surfaces of both pork shoulders dry, and rub all surfaces with the spice rub. Roll up the boned/butterflied shoulder and tie tightly with butchers twine.
Wrap each shoulder tightly in cling wrap and rest in the fridge for at least 12 hours. 
Soak the wood ships in water for at least 12 hours also.
About 12 hours before you intend to serve, set up the smoker (in my case with the big green egg, I built a charcoal fire about 2 inches above the higher vents) and light the charcoal. Once it is properly lit, scatter the soaked wood chips over the charcoal, put the plate setter feet up, an aluminum drip pan 2/3 filled with water in the plate setter and then the grill bars on top of that. Close the lid and allow the temperature to come up to around 250F. When the thermometer registers 250, put the meat on the bars. Close the lid, watch the temperature so that it stabilizes at 250, adjusting top and bottom vents as necessary.
The first batch of charcoal held temperature for about 5 hours.
At 5 hours, I added more coals and let it cook for another 5 hours - all at 250F.
The internal temperature of the meat was 165 at that point. 

Take the meat off the grill, tent with foil and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes. Being a barbecued piece of meat, it is best served warm, and not grill temperature.